Michael Mewborn was born in Elberton, Georgia; grew up in Columbia, South Carolina; and spent several years in Syracuse, New York before moving to central Virginia in 1973. After two excruciating years studying chemical engineering at the University of South Carolina, Michael listened to his true calling and undertook a variety of jobs as draftsman, illustrator, typographer, layout artist, and graphic designer (and truck driver in the Army and National Guard) in South Carolina, New York, and Virginia.
In his art, the most easily observed influence of these early experiences is in the draftsman-like precision of his carefully designed paintings. Mewborn’s art reflects his profound fascination with both geometric design as an art form and with random selection and perception of pattern. During the 1970s Michael exhibited his work at shows and competitions all over the East Coast and was represented by galleries in Washington, DC; North Carolina; and Virginia. He designed wall graphics for IBM Corporate Headquarters #2 in White Plains, New York and for a variety of central Virginia companies, and his art became part of numerous private collections.
By the mid-70’s he was creating commissioned pieces for organizations such as IBM and Westvaco. His art has been executed in a variety of mediums including acrylic paints, serigraphs, hooked rugs, needlepoint tapestries and Giclee prints. Many of his creations are constructed on large canvases with bold, deeply saturated colors, reflecting a connection between art and the nature of modern American culture.
In 1976 Michael found that his largest creation to date – a graphic arts company called The Design Group – would require his undivided attention if it were to survive. He put aside his painting and personal design projects temporarily to focus on running the business – and “temporarily” turned into nearly 30 years.
Following the sale of his company in 2004, Michael returned to his true calling and found a multitude of new contexts for his creative vision. Modern graphics tools, new printing technology, 21st century exploration of the nature of randomness and chaos, and even modern advances in evolutionary theory all serve to inform Michael’s new outlook. As in his earlier pieces, he offers the viewer a paradox in the mating of precise geometrics with random pattern selection, forcing the spectator to search for content or impose personal meaning on the work. Michael also focuses on a pre-set “universe” of colors and visual elements for each piece, which simultaneously imposes limits on the possible results and, by creating limits, emphasizes the difference between artistic vision and the basic craft – the nuts and bolts of brushwork, technique, and color selection – of painting.
Michael is married and has two sons, four granddaughters and two great-grandchildren who live in North Carolina and South Carolina. His work can be seen in his studio at #202 Riverviews Artspace, 901 Jefferson Street in Lynchburg (by luck or appointment).
Syracuse (NY) University Regent Theater (Oneman show)
Lynchburg (VA) Fine Arts Center (One man show)
Bath County, VA (Group show)
Michelson Gallery, Washington, DC (Group show)
University of Richmond (VA) (Two person show)
Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, VA (One man show)
Gallery 720, Lynchburg, VA (Two person show)
The Art Gallery of Chapel Hill, NC
Roanoke (VA) Fine Arts Center at Cherry Hill (One man show)
Virginia State College, Petersburg, VA (One man show)
Pentagram Gallery, Charlottesville, VA (One man show)
Columbus (GA) Museum of Art (One man show)
Columbia (SC) Museum of Art (One man show)
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Group show)
Yeatts Gallery, Roanoke, VA (One man show)
Gallery 720, Lynchburg, VA (One man show)
Virginia Episcopal School, Lynchburg, VA (One man show)
Hampden-Sydney College, Farmville, VA (One man show)
Art Gallery Originals, Winston-Salem, NC (One man show)
Ghent Gallery of Contemporary Art, Norfolk, VA (Two person show)
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA (Group show)
Scott-McKennis Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (One man show)
The Prizery, South Boston (Invitational Group show)
Nelson Fine Arts Center, Lexington, VA (Juried Group Show)
Lynchburg Academy of Fine Arts (Two person show with Susan Patrick)
ADA Gallery, Richmond, VA (with Jeffrey Majer)
Studios on the Square, Roanoke, VA
Affordable Art Fair, Metropolitan Plaza, New York, NY
CapitalOne, Richmond, VA (Two person show with Rosemarie Fiore)
Durham Fine Arts Council, Semans Gallery, Durham, NC (One man show)
Broome St. Gallery, New York, NY (with two Brazilian artists)
The Prizery, South Boston, VA (Invitational group show)
Upstairs Gallery, 921 Main Street Fine Art, Lynchburg, VA (One man show)
Gallery, WVTF Public Radio, Roanoke, VA (One man show)
Various invitational group shows
Riverviews Artspace Craddock-Terry Gallery (One man show)
A quick, silent tour of my show in the Craddock-Terry Gallery at Riverviews Artspace in Lynchburg, VA at the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic, July-August 2020.
I give a gallery talk with Brooke Marcy, curator at Riverviews Artspace, and Meg Weston, assistant curator. Utilizing Zoom technology provided all of us social distancing for our own COVID-19 protection.
My approach to my artwork is simple: I want it to be interesting, whatever it happens to be. I intend to involve the viewer. The piece, whether it is a painting or a construction, needs to provide the viewer with something more or less than what he or she expects. Sometimes there may be an image embedded in the patterns that form the overall look. Often this image isn’t apparent at first viewing. Other times I may suggest an image that isn’t really there. The viewer must decide for himself or herself if what is being seen is the total of what is there. In most of my work I actively avoid providing a focal point. Thus the viewer's eyes wander around the piece searching for a familiar resting spot. In most cases they won't find one.
In the process I may use colors that don't seem to be compatible; they may, in fact, clash under ordinary conditions. I try to use them in such a way that they provide energy to the artwork.
I am not above employing optical tricks to create illusions. Using some of the principles of Gestaltism (proximity, assimilation, simultaneous contrast and negative-positive, etc.) enables me to create the image I am looking for.
I do not mix colors. I paint directly from the tube or jar, using strictly commercial colors. Sometimes this restricts what I can do, but I just work around that. I do not try to achieve perfection. A certain amount of "painterly" effect is acceptable. The edges are hand-painted, not masked. My work is obviously produced by a person, rather than a machine. Other artists may mask their edges to insure crispness. That is not important to me.
Sometimes it is possible to see the pencil-marks that are the basic structure of my paintings. That doesn't bother me much. I sometimes paint over the ones that do bother me. My work is designed to be seen from a small distance, rather than closely examined.
Most of my work involves patterns. Sometimes I adopt a familiar theme, then apply my own approach to the use of color. Other times I develop patterns based on an idea or mental image I have. Then the colors are precisely selected to create an image or deception. My favorite patterns are somewhat out of my control. I create "rules" which are then used randomly to determine the final outcome. The rules range from simple to very complex, depending upon what I am after in a given piece. My images almost always begin with a grid, usually a square one. Then the rules are applied. These rules determine whether the squares formed by the grid are further divided, whether a shape is located at the grid intersections, and the size of such a shape.
Then I select my palette of colors for the piece and assign each color a number. I then rely upon a random-selection technique to determine the application of color to the piece. Rules govern how colors dominate when they overlap. This coloration determines the final look of the work and is always a surprise to me. I hope from the onset that my "rules" will produce a pleasing and interesting piece, but the exact outcome is always out of my control. The randomness is ensured through the use of random-selection tables designed specifically for the individual piece and created by a random-number generator on the Internet. Before the Internet I used random-selection tables created for me by friends who had access to large computers, or even by dice or coin tossing.
My preferred medium is acrylics on stretched canvas. A variation on this involves cutting shapes from canvas and gluing these to stretched canvas prior to painting. When I use this method, I often determine the shapes and where they are applied by randomness. Sometimes I use Artist's Hardboard as a support for various objects which are glued to the surface before painting. The location of these objects may be determined visually or by randomness. In the past I was an active serigrapher and produced many pieces using hand-cut stencils. I even produced prints for other artists who either didn't want to or couldn't produce their own. This doesn't interest me now. The chemicals required for screen-printing are a little daunting. Even though I am a fairly proficient computer user, I really don't have much interest in producing computer generated graphics. I use this tool occasionally and will not rule out this as a possible future medium.
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